Apple to add RCS support to iOS 18 update

Typing indicator RCS

In a notable update for iPhone users, Apple has officially declared that the forthcoming iOS 18 upgrade, expected by the end of 2024, will introduce the Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging standard. This enhancement is geared towards improving the messaging interaction between iPhone and Android users.

Previously, amidst increasing calls for better interoperability, Apple had expressed its intention to adopt RCS, a protocol endorsed by leading wireless carriers, Google, and the GSM Association. Yet, the timeline for this integration remained ambiguous, with speculation ranging from iOS 17 to subsequent versions. However, as indicated by renowned journalist Mark Gurman in Bloomberg's Power On newsletter, the integration of RCS is now confirmed for the iOS 18 update in late 2024.

This strategic change in Apple's approach is partly influenced by regulatory pressures, including an antitrust lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice centered on Apple's limited SMS message access for third-party apps. While RCS does not provide the same access level as seen in Android systems, it marks a significant stride towards better cross-platform messaging capabilities.

RCS promises to elevate the messaging experience, offering advanced features similar to those of iMessage, such as high-resolution media sharing, read receipts, and typing indicators – features currently missing in standard SMS or MMS communications with Android devices. Within the Messages app, RCS conversations will be denoted by green bubbles, preserving the distinct blue bubbles for iMessage conversations.

Interestingly, Apple's decision to incorporate RCS may also be influenced by external factors, especially regulatory changes in China. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out, a new regulation requiring RCS support in 5G devices for certification in China might have been a key influencer. This is despite the lack of encryption in RCS, highlighting China's emphasis on the standard.

Contrary to some narratives, recent clarifications suggest that iMessage's market position in the European Union does not necessitate a response under the Digital Markets Act.

Look for Apple's RCS integration this fall on all iPhones compatible with iOS 18.